Madrid Recommendations: Neighborhoods, Food, Drinks & Day Trips

Having lived in Madrid for a short period of time, I’ve realized how many hidden gems are dispersed around the city. As a tourist, it’s easy to overlook the magic as the city often hides under Barcelona’s shadow. But don’t worry, whether you’re in town for only a few days or have recently moved in, the article breaks down areas you won’t want to miss.

Neighborhoods:

  • Sol – Center point of Madrid, known for its extensive shops and restaurants; nearby neighborhoods include Malasaña and Chueca.
  • Malasaña – The birthplace of the countercultural movement after Franco’s death. Its streets are filled art, vintage boutiques, outdoor cafes, hip bars and restaurants.

    Malasaña

  • Chueca – The LGBTQ neighborhood full of trendy cocktail bars, cafés and shops.
  • Salamanca – One of the most expensive neighborhoods of the city filled with designer brands, luxury apartments and Michelin-star restaurants.
  • La Latina – One of the oldest neighborhoods in Madrid; famous for streets lined with tapas bar.
  • Lavapiés – A multicultural hub filled with cuisine from various parts of the world. Alongside its street art, the neighborhood is home to many hip cafes.

Attractions:

  • Plaza Mayor – Madrid’s most famous square surrounded by bars, cafes and traditional eats.
  • Retiro Park – The city’s leisure spot for both tourists and locals (go row boating, take a picnic or bask in the sun).
  • Royal Palace of Madrid – I’m usually not a huge proponent of castles but this place is honestly one of the most stunning palaces I’ve been to. The decor, the colorful details and its many rooms are all worth a visit. I’d recommend an audio guide or visiting with a tour.
  • The Golden Triangle of Art
    1. Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) — a National Museum featuring pre-20th-century art
    2. Reina Sofía Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) —a National Museum featuring 20th century modern art
    3. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum — a National Art Museum with a collection of historical through contemporary art, open to the public.
  • Temple of Debod – An ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid; a beautiful spot to watch the sunrise and sunset.
  • El Rastro – Every Sunday, La Latina opens its streets for flea market. From 5 Euro denim jackets to souvenirs, this street fair attracts those eager to shop.
  • Gran Vía – The city’s biggest shopping area full of various mid to high end brands.
  • Circulo de Bellas Artes – A rooftop with stunning views of the city. It costs a few euros to take an elevator up and theres also a rooftop bar, Azotea del Círculo.
  • Mercato de San Miguel – a touristy stop but still cool to check out as it offers various tapas, sangrias and jamon (Spanish ham).

Dining:

  • Bar La Campana ($) – Try the Bocadillo de Calamares aka calamari sandwich, a bit strange sounding but I promise, it’s so good! Also try the Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes) on the side with the white and red sauce.
    • El Brilliante ($-$$) is also another great stop for calamari sandwiches
  • San Gines ($) – Try churros con coco here, although touristy, it’s a classic.
  • La Negra Tomasa ($-$$) – One of my favorite dining experiences in Madrid because of its live music, dancing, hefty portions and delicious food. Come 30 minutes before peak times (lunch and dinner) so you can find a seat and enjoy the ambiance when music starts playing and people start dancing.
  • Ojala ($-$$) – Trendy decor on the top floor and a sand bar underneath it all. This spot is great for brunch or evening drinks with friends. Definitely go downstairs!
  • Takos ($) – Have a big appetite but only spare change? This taco joint hits the spot every time with just a few euros.
  • Yatai Market ($-$$) – One of my favorite stops for diverse Asian food. A hawker style indoor market where you can find dim sum, ramen, chow fun, sushi and more.
  • Tintos y Tapas ($-$$) – Your classic Spanish tapas bar; be sure to try their Tinto de Verano and Tortilla Española.
  • Restaurante Zara ($$) – Craving Cuban food? This is the place to go. I’d highly recommend their fried chicken and rice.
  • StreetXO ($$-$$$) – Chef Dabiz Muñoz’s casual spin-off to his 3 star Michelin restaurant, DiveXO. The restaurant serves Asian-European small plates and cocktails without reservations needed, but be wary of the queue.

Bars:

  • El Tigre ($) – I’m begrudgingly including this on the list; although not known for its quality, its quantity makes it a popular place for predrinks. The bar serves a free flow of tapas with the order of one cocktail.
  • Ojala ($) – as mentioned prior, a cool sandbar below so go downstairs!
  • Jardines Secreto ($-$$) – a kitschy spot for evening drinks with vibrant decors
  • La Bicicleta ($) – casual lounge/bar with a gritty feel and decent drinks
  • 1862 Dry Bar ($$) – great cocktails
  • El Chapandaz ($-$$) – A cave bar with a dive bar feel; although the scene may not be glamorous, this bar guarantees a unique experience as the drinks flow out the drippings of a manmade cave.
  • In sum... any bars in the neighborhood Malasaña or Chueca is great for bar hopping

Cafes to work & access WiFi

  • La Colectiva Cafe 
  • Mision Cafe 
  • Pum Pum cafe 
  • Toma Cafe 
  • Egeo

Day Trips

  • Segovia (30 minutes on the AVE high speed train) – Known for iconic structures like its aqueducts, castle and cathedral, Segovia’s quant architecture will really take you back in time. Read about how to get there and what to see.
  • Toledo (30 minutes on the AVE high speed train) – UNESCO declared Toledo a World Heritage Site in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage. The city boasts over 2,000 years of history and is home to one of the richest El Greco collections in Spain. Read about how to get there there and what to see.
  • Sierra de Guadarrama‎ (1hr 20 min by train) – Escape the city and go for a hike with friends. Read about how to get there and what to see.

In all, I hope you enjoy your time in Madrid. The city has so much to offer and I hope some of these recommendations can show that 🙂

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